‘We helped Boko Haram militants change tyre while returning the girls, and escorted them out of town as they left’.
The release of the abducted students of Government Girls’ Science and Technical College,Dapchi, Yobe State, has brought great relief and joy to not only their parents but even to the nation. Our correspondent reflects on the mood in the town and how the perplexed residents reacted.
Many Dapchi residents, especially those whose daughters were earlier abducted on February 19, were still confused about the circumstances surrounding the abduction and return of the schoolgirls when Daily Trust visited the town on Thursday.
Muhammed Mustafa, a resident, said he was shocked at the manner the militants conveniently entered the town and released the girls, even as the incident made him remove all his children from boarding school.
“We were told that the militants were coming hours before they arrived, and immediately after they entered, all security operatives stood by for them. They had a field day and left,” he said.
Another resident, Abba Musa (alias Shago), said he even helped the militants to change a punctured tyre in the town before they left, adding that they entered through the eastern part of the town and brought the girls without any reaction from security operatives.
“They came in eight vehicles and dropped the girls on the major road. Initially, people started running when their first vehicle moved in and blocked the highway. Then they asked, ‘are you not happy that we returned your children?’ We all said, ‘yes’, then we saw the same vehicle that took away the girls, and they started alighting from the vehicle.
“People started running towards them, and before you knew it, the entire town gathered around the girls. Those who identified their daughters were crying in joy while others were too perplexed to reunite with their own.
“They (militants) pleaded that we should help them replace their punctured tyre and we gladly changed the tyre before they zoomed off. While helping them to replace the tyre, one of them looked at me and said, ‘your haircut is Haram, as a Muslim, you are supposed to grow beard like ours, not Balitolli haircut’.They said no ransom was been paid to them, as they only released the girls voluntarily.
“We escorted them outside the town and returned home.They made an offer that anyone willing to join the “service”of Allah should follow them but we didn’t,” he added.
No security interference
He said the militants dropped the girls close to a police checkpoint, and there was a total stand down by the military and other security operatives in the town.
“The soldiers and other security operatives crossed the town bridge to the bush when they arrived. After about one hour preaching, they left,” he said.
The militants returned to Dapchi with the girlsand delivered them to members of the community around 8:15am. Many people in the town said they were informed beforethe militants dropped one of the girls in Bumsa village and later brought her colleagues into the heart of the town.
Cramped into a truck
Narrating how they were earlier abducted, one of the girls, Khadija Grema, said they were about to break their Monday fast when the militants struck.
“We were then cramped into a TATA truck under the pretext of rescuing us and driven into the bush. We shouted for help but nobody came to our rescue. As we continued the journey into the bush, they asked for those among us that were fasting, and serve us food and drinks after which we observed our prayers.”
‘They didn’t molest us, but 5 died’
She said five of the girls died from heart attack, trauma and stress due to the long trip and were buried honorably according to Islamic rites.
“None of them intimidated any of us, they didn’t molest us. Only one girl was left there for refusing to denounce her faith. She is a Christian and refused to denounce her religion.”
Episode a big surprise
The chairman, Dapchi abducted schoolgirls’ parents association, Alhaji Bashir Manzo, said the abduction and eventual release of the girls was a big surprise to him and everyone that followed the event closely.
“Thank God our daughters have returned with the exception of one, we will continue the struggle until our last daughter, Leah, returns safely. As Muslims, we left everything in the hands of God. We all believed that it’s God that answered our prayers,” he said.
Blame game over abduction
Weeks after the abduction of the girls, security agencies deployed in the state had traded blames on who should account for the abduction, especially after allegations that the military’s withdrawal a week before the attack aided the insurgents.
The military in a statement said they had formally handed over the town to the police before the withdrawal, a statement also countered by the police who said no letter was transmitted to them in that regard.
However, the police commissioner, AbdumalikiSunmonu, said in a press statement that his men didn’t runaway when the militants struck as alleged.
“The insinuation that the police ran away is not true as the only near fatal casualty was a policeman who was wounded and is now recuperating in hospital,” he said.
How they militants stormed Dapchi
A police officer who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that he was on duty at the Divisional Police Station when the militants struck at exactly 5:30pm.
“On that day, I was on duty at the police station when the gunshots started. Before we could quickly organised ourselves, the militants were already approaching the station in a convoy of 12 vehicles and they were well armed. So, we couldn’t face their number and the weapons at their disposal.
“We had to reposition ourselves by taking cover at safe locations. I was watching when they entered the school. Before then, they stopped at our station mosque, called prayers two times and prayed. Shortly after, those that entered the school and abducted the girls joined them and drove out of the town through the same route they entered.”
Taken off-balance due to superior fire
He said they were taken off balance because they all mistook the insurgents for soldiers, not knowing that they were militants in military vehicles and uniforms.
“I hid there for hours because there was nothing we could do. It was the heavy firearms that scared everyone into the bush. We were adequately trained to face them but the condition we found ourselves then was not favourable.The sophisticated weapons gave the disgusting terrorists the ability to control everyone without resistance.
“After they left, we spent over a week combing and the bush in search of the school children, especially those that scaled fence and escaped into the nearby bush, village and town.
“Now parents, well-wishers and everyone is happy that the girls have been released. It’s a thing of joy that everyone must celebrate”, he said.
Another policeman simply called Daudasaid they could have stopped the abduction if the military had not withdrawn earlier.
“At the time of the attack, we had less than 30 police personnel in Dapchi. I think we were just 27. However, everyone was at his assigned beat when the Boko Haram struck. You know, the insurgents attack when least expected, and everyone frantically scampered for safety.
Military arrived too late
“After we put a distress call, the military contingent only arrived here (Dapchi) around 3:00am from Gaidam. At that time, the terrorists had left for almost six hours.
“In short, we all avoided the outburst of the insurgents’ gunfire but did not dodge the heartbreak, because loved ones had been taken away. Thank God the girls have been released,” he said.
Malam Saidu Bomis Dapchi, a vigilante group member whose niece was among the released schoolgirls, said he was preparing for the sunset prayer when the militants stopped him.
“I stopped and saluted them, thinking they were real soldiers, one of them asked of the location of the girls’ school. Then I concluded they were not soldiers, so I gave them a wrong direction and quickly returned home. They started shooting and moved straight to the bridge direction. I don’t know how they made it to the school and abducted the girls.
“In fact,Dapchi town had never seen so much happiness as on the day they returned the girls “, he said.